FAQ's On The Rules

Questions/ Clarifications on the Rules





September 2013

Changes to USA-S Technical Rules

Sep 23, 2013


Effective September 23, 2013

From: YMCA Swimming


Effective September 23, 2013

Since the 2013 USA Swimming Rule Book was printed, FINA the international organization which governs all the aquatic disciplines including swimming has made rule changes.  Since USA Swimming is required by law to follow the technical rules of FINA, these changes will become effective on September 23, 2013.  Rather than reprint the USA Swimming Rule Book, this linked document should be an addendum to your current 2013 rule book.  The 2014 rule book will incorporate these changes under their respective sections when it is released.

The backstroke changes are more cosmetic than substantive and should not affect how the backstroke is currently judged.  Once the swimmer turns from the back to the breast they must immediately initiate the turn.  The addition of the word, immediate, further defines the rule but it has always been interpreted that the swimmer must initiate the turn once they turn to the breast. 

The other backstroke change deletes the phrase “at the finish” regarding when a swimmer may be submerged.  Once again nothing substantive has changed since the swimmer was never permitted to re-submerge during the race after they surfaced.

The breaststroke and butterfly changes relate to the touches at the turns and finish.  It further clarifies that the hands must be separated at the touch.  In the past if an athlete touched with crossed hands, the official had to determine if the fingers of the upper hand touched simultaneously with the lower hand.  The new rule eliminates this ambiguity for the official. 

The other change to both strokes amplifies what a swimmer may do at the turn which is to turn in any manner after the touch but must be on the breast when leaving the wall.  Again this is the way it has been judged and this additional wording will not change how it will be judged this season.

The other butterfly change concerns the stroke and that the arms must be brought forward simultaneously and pulled back simultaneously under the water throughout the race.  Once again this is way it has been judged and this additional wording will not change how it will be judged this season.

The last point on swimwear just adds additional items which specifically cannot be used during the competition.  

Link to Revisions: Addendum to your current 2013 rule book

The online YMCA Swim Official certifcation tests will be update shortly to reflect these changes

YMCA National Officials Commitee
Joel Black, Chairperson

August 2012

Use of Place Judges

Aug 24, 2012

At this year’s Iowa YMCA State Swimming Championship Meet there was some confusion and concern on the use of the Place Judges.  The Place Judges are used as a part of the timing and judging system to determine the order of finish of each race.  They are not used to supersede the automatic judging and timing system that is in place, but to help determine if there might be a malfunction in the system. 

Judging shall only be used to change the results produced by ranking the official times if:

1. The swimmers competed in the same heat

2.Times obtained from properly operating timing equipment are not available, and

3.The Place Judges both observed a different order of finish and made a written record of their observation immediately following the conclusion of that heat.

NOTE:  A different relative order of finish means there is agreement that a different swimmer finished ahead of another swimmer; there need not be and agreement on their exact placement within the heat.

Any time there is a difference between the time obtained by the primary system and the back-up system(s) is more than 0.30 seconds or more or it is report the swimmer missed the pad or had a soft touch. 

This does not always mean there was a malfunction, but warrants an investigation.    If a malfunction is determined the time differential and modified ballot procedure(s) are used to determine the official time and order of finish depending on the situation.

If the judging changes the results:

1.Such placement by judges decision (JD) shall be indicated in the meet results.

2.In no case may a swimmer with a faster time displace a swimmer who was judged to have placed ahead of him/her within a heat according to rule 102.24.5C.

December 2011

Jewelry Rule for Iowa Swimming

Dec 6, 2011

I can’t find the jewelry rule for Iowa Swimming on the website… can you direct me where it is? Also, I’m being told that swim caps have to be  team caps and can’t be a smiley face or such….can you validate that as well…thanks..

Iowa follows the USA-S rule which is located in the 2011 USA-S Mini Rulebook under rule 102.8 found on pages 34-35.

October 2011

Rule Changes and Interpretations

Oct 27, 2011

The link above includes rule changes and interpretations that came out of the 2011 Fall USA Swimming Convention which affect YMCA swimming.

Rules Changes and Interpretations

A change to Rule 202.5 now allows YMCA officials to act as observers at USA-S observed meets run by other organizations (e.g., NFHS, NCAA, etc.)

The requirement for an empty lane between men and women or swimmers in different age groups when events are combined (Rule 102.7.2) can now is waived by the referee, with the concurrence of the coaches of the affected swimmers.

The wording was adjusted in Rule 102.24.4C to clarify that the .3 second difference between timing systems is only a guideline; differences of less than .3 seconds should be investigated if the other evidence indicates a possible malfunction.

In a similar vein, the allowance in Rule 102.24.4D for an automatic correction factor to be built into semi-automatic timing systems was also rescinded.  This change will be implemented by software changes for older systems.

An Interpretation of the Rules Committee was reiterated in that the touch in the butterfly must be with both hands; if the head touches first, that is an illegal touch that should result in a disqualification.

Once a swimmer surfaces at the start of the freestyle, butterfly or backstroke, that swimmer may not re-submerge, even if he/she has not reached the 15 meter mark.

In determining whether or not a swimmer has initiated the stroke at the start of the breaststroke, for purposes of taking the downward butterfly kick, there has to be visible lateral or downward movement of the hands, not merely the fingers.  Also at the start and after each turn of the breaststroke, care has to be taken to determine that a butterfly kick has occurred, not just the normal undulation of the body in assessing whether the swimmer has taken more than one butterfly kick. 

September 2011

Can a USA Swimming Officials Certification be used at a YMCA Swim Meet?

Sep 28, 2011

We have a few parents that are USA officials from their summer club. They would like to help us out for the winter team for YMCA. We are looking to see what else they need to do so they can be an official for the YMCA also. Do they need to take the class through the Y or does their USA class work for that?

USA-S Certified Officials Seeking YMCA Certification

1.  Attend the appropriate level YMCA Clinic.  For an existing USA-S certified official who meets the Level #2 requirements (a fully certified USA-S official for at least one year and having worked at least eight meet sessions), he/she may go directly to Level #2; there is no need to start with Level #1.

2.  Pass the appropriate test.  USA-S Certified Officials who have recently (within the last three months) taken the USA-S test will only have to answer a small number of specified questions on the YMCA test pertaining to the YMCA Core Values, YMCA eligibility rules and dual meet mechanics.

3.  For USA-S Certified Stroke and Turn Officials and Starters taking the YMCA Level #2 Clinic, they will have to take the full Level #2 Certification Test, as they are seeking certification as a Referee and Starter.  USA-S Certified Referees will only have to take the Level #2 Re-certification Test, or answer a small number of selected questions, as noted above, if they have recently taken the applicable USA-S tests.

4.  Meet any apprenticeship requirements of the local YMCA Swim League.  However experienced USA-S Certified Officials, it is recommended that such requirements be waived.

Backstroke Finish

Sep 5, 2011

QUESTION:  Backstroke Finish

USA-Swimming Rules ( Rule 101.4.2) allow the swimmer to be completely submerged at the finish of the race.  Does that mean at the point the swimmer actually touches or from the point the time the swimmer makes the final reach for the wall?


The finish is defined in the Glossary of the 2011 USA-Swimming Rulebook as "the instant that a swimmer touches the wall at the end of the prescribed distance."  This is a difficult call to make, particularly because when swimmers approach the wall your focus shifts from the whole body to the upper torso to determine the position of the shoulders before the touch.  Thus, the swimmer will have to be completely submerged some distance from the wall so that you can see the whole body and your focus has not yet shifted to the upper torso.  Remember, as in all cases, the benefit of the doubt goes to the swimmer.

This answer was posted on the National YMCA web site by Ed Miller, National Officials' Committee Chair on February 2011

January 2011

Jewelry for Swimmers

Jan 24, 2011

Can swimmers wear Jewelry, Medical Braclets and so on?

Yes but is HIGHLY discouraged as we want to set good practices for HS Swimming.
(No Jewelry is allowing in Iowa HS Swimming Rules) 

The YMCA follows USA swimming rules, there is no specific rule against swimmers wearing jewelry. 

Backstroke Turn

Jan 14, 2011

We were wondering if the rule that stated that once a swimmer flips onto their stomach during the backstroke into the turn they are not allowed to kick into the wall is still in effect?  Some are saying that it is and some are saying they are allowed to kick into the turn.

Once the body has left the position on the back, any kick or arm pull must be part of the continuous turning action.

NOTE: Under high school rules (NFHS - Rule 8.2.1f), after the initiation of the turning action, no additional arm pulls may be started, however, kicking and gliding actions are permitted.

Backstroke Turn

Jan 14, 2011

Once a swimmer has flipped onto their stomach (again for backstroke) if at the last minute they decide they don’t want to do a flip turn, are they allowed to touch the wall on their stomach, turn around and push off on their back or if they turn over onto their stomach and do not flip are they disqualified? 

During the turn the shoulders may be turned past vertical towards the breast after which a continuous single arm pull or a continuous double arm pull may (not required) be used to execute the turn.  If the turning action was continuous up to the point of contact with the wall, there should be no disqualification.


Butterfly Stroke Recovery

Jan 3, 2011

Butterfly Stroke Recovery

Question: Article 101.3.2 states that both arms must be brought forward over the water and pulled back simultaneously. What does the term “over the water” mean and how should it be judged.

Question: Article 101.3.2 states that both arms must be brought forward over the water and pulled back simultaneously. What does the term “over the water” mean and how should it be judged.

Answer: Article 101.3.2 requires that, in the butterfly stroke, “both arms” must be brought forward “over the water" and pulled back simultaneously. It is the interpretation of the USA Swimming Rules & Regulations Committee that the “arm” is that portion of the body which extends from the shoulder to the wrist. It is also the interpretation of the Committee that "over the water" means the arm, as defined above, must break the surface of the water.

An analogy to this might be a comparison between a submarine and a sail boat. One operates under the surface of the water and one operates “atop” the surface of the water (i.e. part in the water and part above the water). Clearly, if the swimmer’s arms do not break the surface of the water it cannot be considered to be “over the water” and would be cause for a disqualification.

However, if both arms (as defined above) break the surface of the water, that would be legal and no disqualification should be called. It is not required that both arms be completely out of the water.

SOURCE: FAQs area on the USA Swimming web site

November 2010

What is the rule of swimmers changing strokes

Nov 20, 2010

Is there a rule on a swimmer changing their stroke during a freestyle event?  Example, a swimmer does one stroke of butterfly, then changes to front crawl for the duration of the race.  Is this legal?

In the freestyle they can do any style they want, or any combination thereof.  We judge them by the freestyle rules and any records set, or times achieved, can only be in freestyle.  The notable exception, of course is in the IM or Medley Relay, where the freestyle leg can only be swum in any style other than backstroke, breaststroke or butterfly.  Rule 101.5.2 is very clear on